Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945)

It’s just not a very good movie, people!  Why does everyone, critic and casual cinephile alike, so eagerly defend this movie while fully acknowledging and even embracing its flaws, all of which are as blatant and obvious as the birthmark on Mikhail Gorbachev’s head (“The Room” this is not.  “Detour’s” most fatal flaw is that it’s actually a better film than Tommy Wiseau’s grand opus of ineptitude sixty years later, so “Detour’s” flaws actually do what flaws are supposed to do – detract)?  Awful acting, no real sets to speak of other than a nondescript hotel room (an early scene that makes full-as-hell use of the fog machine, as if Ulmer had to return it a 9 the next morning so he felt like he had to use it ’til the cows come home to compensate, is just laughable), terribly hammy and even contradictory screenplay (seriously, Tom Neal’s narration just needs to stop.  Its cheesiness knows no bounds)…I suppose the big defense is that the flaws give this movie its soul and its edge and surreal nature, but c’mon, even in the pulpiest of pulp fiction worlds nobody’s stupid enough to bury their dead car-mate and assume his identity because you think you’ll automatically be fingered for murder, and then proceed to be happily emasculated by the bitch from hell.  What silliness, what over-the-top insanity once Ann Savage shows up and scrapes the proverbial nails across the chalkboard.  Yeah, these screengrabs are pretty, but SO superfluous and window dressing-ish (the one with the light on Tom Neal’s eyes in particular just feels like poor man’s noir lighting, the kind a film student would make to stand out but just ends up looking like a desk lamp is being shined in the actor’s eyes.  What a bizarre failed attempt at dynamic noir lighting, made even more bizarre by many viewers’ equating that failure with a strange kind of greatness.  It’s shameless over-reliance on visual symbolism to express psychology, nothing more!).  But, at least the climax involving a bizarre accident is very unexpected and particularly macabre and pulpy, which ties into an overall feeling of bleakness and despair that rides alongside this idiot Al throughout his cross-country journey, allegedly to reunite with his ne’er-do-wrong girl but really to quench his thirst for emotional masochism, apparently, what with how much verbal (and cheesy as hell, and not even in a so-bad-it’s-funny kind of way) diarrhea he takes from hitchhiker Vera – that overall bleak feeling I suppose being what “Detour’s” defenders are really talking about, so in a way I can understand their argument.  This is one of the bleakest film worlds I’ve seen, starting with Al and Vera’s impossibly pessimistic worldviews and justifications for concocting idiotic schemes with no chance of success for personal gain, and made even bleaker with how shoddy it’s built by Ulmer, like there really is no way out of the misery when these cardboard imitations of human beings are surrounded on all sides by rear projection screens and fake fog and a haphazardly-built hotel room set (gah, look at me defending this like everyone else now!  I fell into the trap!    ).  But that and the climax are really the only saving graces here.  My god, fucking Ann Savage couldn’t grow old and give the performance she was born to play in an avant garde experimental essay film about the city of Winnipeg fast enough  .


* I fully and shamelessly reserve the right to change this score to a much higher one at some point in the future

1 comment so far

  1. Mercurie on

    As a classic film buff I have to agree with you. I cannot understand why anyone would hold Detour up as a classic. It’s far from it. In fact, portions of Detour are so inept that they approach an Ed Wood level of film making. I could understand how that could turn it into a camp “classic” like Plan 9 From Outer Space, but Detour’s defenders don’t seem to think of it that way! Detour is just a terrible movie and after watching it, it’s hard to believe Ulmer actually directed one of my favourite horror films, The Black Cat!

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